Audiology students travel to Mexico to provide free hearing health care

A group of 10 Doctor of Audiology students from the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions department of speech, language, and hearing sciences, along with Hollea Ryan, Ph.D., Au.D., a clinical associate professor and audiology program director, and Emily Gaines, Au.D., a clinical assistant professor and coordinator of clinical education, traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to provide free hearing health care services during UF spring break in March as part of Project Yucatan.

“It was beautiful to see so many different people come together to better other peoples’ lives,” said Au.D. student Madison Frederick. “Seeing these children and their parents’ faces light up when fitted with hearing aids for the first time reminded me why I chose this career and made me very proud to be a Florida Gator.”

The students began planning the trip in May 2023 and held several garage sales, clothing fundraisers and even hosted a 5K race at Depot Park in November to raise money for the experience, which is conducted with nonprofit organization AYPRODA.

“Project Yucatan was the most impactful experience I have ever been a part of,” said Au.D. student Ellie McIntosh. “It demonstrated what a difference the field of audiology can make in people’s lives and helped grow my passion for globalizing hearing health care.”

McIntosh and Frederick presented the idea of planning and attending Project Yucatan as their capstone project. They hope to present their experiences in the spring of 2025, as they will also be leading Project Yucatan 2025 as part of their commitment to their capstone project. Other students who participated in Project Yucatan included second-year Au.D. students Lakynn Hillhouse, Brittney Moore, Natalie Ducut and Sofía Sanchez. Third-year students included Laura Infante, Makenzie Pauline, Sarah Bridges and Amanda Prozeralik.

McIntosh and Frederick shared these insights from the trip:

“AYPRODA is the Yucatecan Association for the Hearing Impaired, which since 1986 has served as a space where fathers and mothers of Deaf children learn to guide, direct and serve other parents of Deaf children, not only through their experience, but also for participation in a series of activities linked to community service. AYPRODA’s mission is to be a resource for change and support of families in the Yucatan Peninsula that need access to hearing health care.

“With the help and coordination of AYPRODA, and students and faculty from the University of Texas-Dallas and the University of Oklahoma, we treated 726 patients over the span of five days in underserved communities. We fit 50 free hearing aids on individuals who needed them, thanks to the generous donation from the Oticon Hearing Foundation. We focused on mostly children so that we could provide early intervention, but did fit a few adults with hearing aids as well. We were able to fit new earmolds for children and adults who needed them, thanks to the generous donation from Westone. We performed multiple different types of hearing tests on the individuals who visited the clinic. These tests included otoscopy, tympanometry, audiometry, otoacoustic emissions and real-ear measurements. We also had a station that performed ear wax removal.

“The children we helped heard sounds they have never heard before, cried tears of happiness with families and parents, played with games and toys with the children, taught people about their hearing health, and so much more. We even had many opportunities to learn about the Mexican Deaf Community and learn some Mexican Sign Language. It was a truly life-changing week in Mérida, Mexico.”